As the new coronavirus pandemic continues to take hold of the United States, more and more families find themselves in quarantine and isolation. For children, this situation can be scary at worst and boring at best.
Rachel Simmons, a parenting expert and contributor for "Good Morning America," has these tips to help parents quell quarantined children's fears and keep them occupied:
1. Maintain a routine
Simmons said giving children structure makes them feel safe.
This means maintaining usual meal and sleep times as well as involving the kids in creating a new daily plan. Ask your child: How do you want to spend your day?
"And remember, they're making a big transition at home, and so we can keep that sense of stability by telling them there's a certain time we wake up and just because they don't like it doesn't mean it's not good for them," Simmons told GMA.
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2. Stay active
Spend an hour doing some kind of moment, such as crafting or cooking. Giving kids the power to choose this activity is also important.
In preparation, start following mommy bloggers like Susie Allison, a.k.a. @busytoddler on Instagram, for easy DIY crafts to keep the kids entertained. Hashtags like #indooractivities and #playtolearn are also great for inspiration.
3.Earn screen time
To avoid having kids and teens spend hours on their iPhones and Xboxes, create a system that lets kids earn their screen time.
"What about saying, 'Look, here's the vacuum, you take care of the living room, and you can have like 20 minutes of Minecraft,'" Simmons said.
Although kids should be pitching in as a part of the family, this rewards system gives them a chance to develop some independence.
Simmons also advised parents to remain positive and look on the bright side.
"Keep your sense of humor intact. Put your oxygen mask on first," she said. "Ask for help when you need it. Talk to other parents, get help, and remember that this could be a hidden opportunity for parents because we often spend too much time entertaining our children."
4. Have a conversation
Child psychologist Dr. Jonathan Kratter said the last thing a parent should tell a child who's expressed concern over the coronavirus is "don't worry."
"When parents tell their kids, 'Just don't worry about it, it won't affect you, it won't bother you,' kids feel like they're not being heard," he said. "What's better is to say, 'Tell me what you're worried about? What have you heard in school? What are the kids saying?' And then together, they can explore what's real, what's not real."
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Dr. Kratter said parents should be checking in with their children often regarding what they are hearing about the coronavirus.
"One time at the dinner table isn't enough because it's a constant source of news lately," he said.
Additional ideas to help to keep kids occupied
In addition to Simmons's tips, the American Academy of Pediatrics offered these ideas to help keep kids occcupied:
- Make a plan. Talk with your kids about what your daily structure will be, how you will handle stress, and when you will take breaks from tele-work or schoolwork to relax and connect with each other.
- Communicate with teachers about what educational online and offline activities your children can do. Schools districts may be able to help connect low-income families to free Wi-Fi or devices.
- For preschoolers, good options include PBS Kids, which is sending out a daily newsletter with show and activity ideas.
- Use social media for good! Check in with neighbors, friends and loved ones. If schools are closed, find out if there are ways to help students who need meals or internet access for at-home learning.
- Use media for social connection: Social distancing can be isolating. If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats or social media to stay in touch.
- Be selective about what your children watch. Use trusted sources to find positive content, such as Common Sense Media, which has been compiling lots of ideas for families hunkering down right now.
- Use media together. This is a great opportunity to monitor what your older children are seeing online and follow what your children are learning. Even watching a family movie together can help everyone relax while you appreciate the storytelling and meaning that movies can bring.
- Parents working from home may need to adjust expectations during this time. But it's also a chance to show kids a part of their world. Encouraging imaginative "work" play may be a way to apply "take your child to work day" without ever leaving home!
- Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to keep children's minds engaged while parents get things done.
- Find offline activities that help family relax and communicate. Take walks outside, play board games, read together, have family dance parties. Know which activities spark your children's interest (kicking the ball around? baking?) and make time for them.
- Create the space for family members to talk about their worries.
- Parents - notice your own technology use. When you're getting too sucked into news or social media feeds and it's stressing you out, children can notice. Take a break to protect your own mental health too.
- Limits are still important. As the timeline of social distancing is uncertain, try to stick to routines. Make sure technology use does not take the place of sleep, physical activity, reading, reflective downtime, or family connection.
- Make a plan about how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night. Challenge children to practice "tech self-control" and turn off the TV, tablet, or video game themselves - rather than parents reminding them.
- Consider what offline activities are enjoyable for your family. Help other families by sharing those ideas.
Gardening tips for kids at home
If you need an at-home activity that's both fun and educational, consider gardening. Good Housekeeping's Lori Bergamotto recently joined "Good Morning America" to share some fun tips for the whole family to use to help get their garden ready for spring.